Literacy Tips

Literacy Tip of the Week: December 8, 2019

posted Dec 8, 2019, 7:28 PM by Steven Richardson   [ updated Dec 9, 2019, 4:52 AM ]

Do Fluent Readers Need Guided Reading?

I recently had a video conference with a group of teachers in Singapore.  They are just getting started with Guided Reading, but are enthusiastic about taking this next step in their literacy instruction. One of their questions was whether fluent readers really need guided reading. Fluent readers might be good decoders, but they still benefit from explicit instruction in comprehension strategies.  When they read self-selected books, they are often reading at their independent level. Since the text is easy, they are rarely required to engage in strategic actions. When we give students a complex text during guided reading, students encounter challenging vocabulary and sentence structures. They might be reading about a topic that is not part of their background knowledge. That is when they need to employ a variety of strategic actions to construct meaning. 

Literacy Tip of the Week: December 1, 2019

posted Dec 1, 2019, 7:08 PM by Steven Richardson   [ updated Dec 8, 2019, 7:24 PM ]

Mining for Comprehension in Low-Level Books

When I select a book at any text level, I look for one that supports a comprehension conversation--both at the literal and deeper level.  It is fairly easy to find good books at level C and higher since they usually have a story; however, the books at levels A and B have patterned texts such as I can, I see, We like, etc. Still, there are discussion prompts that can work with most patterned texts. For instance:

1. Retell - What did you read? Children can always retell what they read. Although this is a low-level comprehension skill, it does build working memory.

2. Favorite part - What is your favorite page? Tell us why you like that page? This taps into personal experiences and preferences.

3. Connections - What is in this book that you like to do (or eat, or play on, etc.)? What connections can you make to this book? Does this book remind you another book we've read? Kids can make connections with a read aloud book or another guided reading book. I'll often have the other book on hand so we can flip through the pages to refresh their memory.

4. Comparisons - Find two things in this book that are different and tell how they are different. Find two things in this book that are similar and tell how they are the same.  This prompt works for a lot of low-level books, and it digs into deeper thinking.  Kids can compare two fruits, two animals, two kinds of playground equipment, etc.. Here's an example --  Tap on the "Read Online" button to view the insides of the book.  It is an awesome feature that I use in presentations.

5. Inferences - Ask a Why ... question.  I find a picture that I could ask a why question about. In this book called, Looking Out, I could ask, "Why does Bella like to look out the window?"

6. Text features - One of my favorite things about Pioneer Valley is the text features they add for their nonfiction books, especially Explore the World series. Here is a link to the Monarch Butterfly. Go to the "read online" link to view the insides of the book. We could discuss the diagram on pages 4-5 (How does a butterfly use its legs or antennae?), or the illustration that shows the formation of the chrysalis on pages 13-14, the emergence of the butterfly on pages 15-16, or the fold-out of the lifecycle. All of the Explore the World books have these amazing text features that can be mined for comprehension discussions.

7. Photographs - Occasionally I'll find a great discussion prompt by examining the photos.  In this Level B Pioneer Valley book, called The Walk, the text is patterned and simple. At first glance, there doesn't appear to be much to discuss. However, if you examine the photos, you will notice the text is told from two perspectives -- the dog walker and the dog. 

8. Asking questions - Although typically I ask questions to stimulate discussion, I love to invite the students to find a page and ask their own questions. I often have to model and then scaffold by providing question starters, but it is an important comprehension strategy that children will use for the rest of their lives.

Literacy Tip of the Week: November 24, 2019

posted Nov 24, 2019, 7:39 PM by Steven Richardson   [ updated Dec 8, 2019, 7:18 PM ]

 Be Thankful

As Thanksgiving approaches, remember to give thanks for your faith, family, friends--and the fabulous students you teach every day.

My son recently shared with me a list of “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude.” It’s taken from an article in Psychology Today magazine. 

1.     Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.

2.    Gratitude improves physical health.

3.    Gratitude improves psychological health.

4.    Gratitude improves empathy and reduces aggression.

5.    Grateful people sleep better.

6.    Gratitude improves self-esteem.

7.    Gratitude improves mental strength. (


Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us looked for something (and someone) to be thankful for each day? 

Literacy Tip of the Week: November 17, 2019

posted Nov 17, 2019, 12:48 PM by Emily Richardson   [ updated Nov 17, 2019, 12:49 PM ]

A Word of Advice to Literacy Coaches

When I work with a district, I almost always recommend on-site coaching. However, coaches need to be well trained on the purpose and procedures of each guided reading component. They need to have good interpersonal skills, and they need to understand the strengths and growth needs of their teachers. One concept I emphasize is to offer a variety of professional development opportunities so teachers can choose how they want to learn. Opportunities can be offered district-wide or among teachers in a single school. Maria Kampen writes: “Formal settings include conferences, courses, seminars, retreats and workshops. Informal opportunities for teacher professional development include independent research or investigation, peer learning initiatives or even just chatting with a colleague in the staff room."

Every time I work with teachers and students, I learn something. Never quit learning and growing!

Literacy Tip of the Week: November 10, 2019

posted Nov 10, 2019, 7:13 PM by Emily Richardson   [ updated Nov 17, 2019, 12:40 PM ]

Confessions of a Running Record Junkie

I confess. I'm addicted to running records. I can't listen to a child read without having a pencil so I can record reading behaviors and strategic actions. Why am I hooked? It's all about responsive teaching. Running records are a window to a child's processing system. Once I understand what a reader does at difficulty, I can respond to that student's needs.

But running records are time-consuming. How can we take running records without sacrificing valuable instructional time? The answer is to embed running records into our guided reading lessons. I take a short running record on each student on Day 1. It helps me know if the book is too easy or too hard. It guides my teaching point for the group. On Day 2, I often take a running record on a single student while the others are rereading the text I introduced the day before. This tells me if my teaching had an impact on the student's reading. Did the student notice an error he or she made on Day 1? What strategic actions did the student use to construct meaning? 

I don't take a running record on an entire book - just a few pages where I would expect the student to engage in strategic processing. I quickly analyze the reader so I can praise him or her for problem solving or respond to some aspect of the reading process that the student is neglecting.

So, may I cordially invite you to get hooked with me on running records?

Literacy Tip of the Week: November 3, 2019

posted Nov 3, 2019, 7:05 PM by Emily Richardson

Help! I have too many guided reading groups.

This past week a second-grade teacher in Wisconsin asked me for advice in reducing the number of her guided reading groups. Based on her students’ reading text levels, she had ten groups! Here are some tips I gave her:

1.     Use the Assessment Summary Charts found in The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading to summarize the data on individual students. There is a chart for each reading stage, pre-A through fluent. You can download the free charts from

2.     As you form instructional groups, consider a range of instructional text levels. Students are rarely at one specific level. Look beyond the accuracy level and analyze fluency, the types of errors, and the student’s comprehension. skills. 

3.     After you’ve determined instructional ranges and analyzed your students’ strengths and needs, form groups based on your focus. For instance, you might have a group of students reading at text levels D/E who need to improve accuracy and fluency and another group at H/I who need help with comprehension. 

4.     If a student doesn’t fit well into any of your groups, teach that student individually with the 10-minute lesson plan or work with your teammates to share and exchange students.

5.     Consider regrouping every few weeks. As your students make progress, update the assessment summary chart and create new groupings. Keep your groups flexible and targeted. 


As for the second-grade teacher -- by using text level ranges and considering the processing strengths and needs of her students, we were able to form four groups, a much more manageable number. She left with a smile, eager to begin teaching guided reading. 


Always remember to Assess – Decide – Guide so that every student becomes a better reader.

Literacy Tip of the Week: October 27, 2019

posted Oct 27, 2019, 3:59 PM by Emily Richardson

Questions Teachers Ask about Implementing Guided Reading

I’ve repeatedly encountered questions from schools and school districts about implementing guided reading. These are some of the most common questions:

Question: What materials do teachers need for guided reading?   

Suggestion: Dr. Richardson’s Next Step Forward in Guided Reading (2016) outlines how to prepare and organize materials for each guided reading stage. Materials common to most groups include:

·      Dry erase boards and markers

·      Magnetic letters on individual trays

·      Sound box templates inserted in a plastic sleeve

·      Analogy charts inserted in a plastic sleeve

·      Comprehension cards (can be copied from Next Step Forward in Guided Reading (Richardson, 2016) or ordered from

·      Pictures for sorting sounds  These can be copied from Words Their Way: Word study for phonics, vocabulary and spelling instruction 6th edition (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton and Johnston, 2015 or ordered from

·      High-quality leveled books. If you are looking for books with lessons written by Jan, see the Literacy Footprints Guided Reading Sets for grades K-6


Question: How do I get staff trained in guided reading and what grade levels should I start with?

Suggestion: Some schools or districts roll out guided reading in phases. For example, a district this year decided to bring two schools on board initially and train their K-2 teachers in both buildings. Next year, they will be adding five additional schools and training 3-5 teachers in each building. Some individual schools bring in a consultant to train their teachers in a systematic fashion covering all guided reading stages and grade levels.

Question: Are there resources we can use to help level students based on running records? 

Suggestion: Use the Next Step Guided Reading Assessment (Richardson & Walter, 2013). Teachers should be trained on how to code and analyze running records to help target students’ needs.

Question:  How can I beat the timer and not feel rushed?

Suggestion: It will take time and practice to get through a lesson in twenty minutes. I suggest teachers use a timer for each component. When the timer goes off, they should reset it for the next component. Self-reflection is also critical. Teachers should reflect on what parts of the lesson are taking longer and why. The majority of teachers master the pacing in about six to eight weeks.

Question: How do I fit guided reading into my reading block?

Suggestion: Page 18 in The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading gives a sample reading block on how group rotations can flow during reader’s workshop. I suggest that district/school leaders plan how many reading groups teachers should be able to carry out daily based on expectations and the allotted time for the reading block. 

Question: How can upper grade teachers thread comprehension strategies from whole group to small group to independent work?

Suggestion: Chapter seven in The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading is a great resource for this. It contains 29 modules with progressive steps for teaching 12 comprehension strategies. Teachers say this chapter has been especially beneficial in showing how to integrate comprehension instruction across their reading block.

There are questions and answer at the end of every chapter in Next Step Forward in Guided Reading. Each of them will be helpful to you as a guided reading teacher.


Tammy Seals, Next Step Guided Reading Consultant

Literacy Tip of the Week: October 20, 2019

posted Oct 20, 2019, 3:56 PM by Emily Richardson   [ updated Dec 8, 2019, 7:23 PM by Steven Richardson ]


Fantasy, mystery, biography, poetry, and informational are some of the genres we use during guided reading. Often forgotten, or maybe not considered, is reading for test-taking. This genre demands different cognitive skills that need to be taught for both reading the passage and answering the questions. 

To introduce this genre to your students, first download and print copies of the Test-Taking Strategies cards from Next Step in Guided Reading author Jan Richardson’s website. These cards outline the steps for reading the passage and answering the questions. Print the cards back-to-back so each student has a card to use in the lesson.

Strategies for Reading the Passage

Step 1. Before reading a test passage, students should use their background knowledge by previewing text features—such as the title, headings, illustrations, graphs, and/or charts—to make predictions. This preview sets a purpose for reading.

Step 2. As they read the passage, students should circle or underline one or two key words in each paragraph. This helps them maintain focus and attention. When students read with a pencil in hand, the result is an amped level of accountability and understanding.

Step 3. After reading each paragraph, students should use the key words they highlighted to orally summarize it. This helps them remember what they read, which will assist them when they answer the test questions.

Step 4. Once they read the entire passage, they can use their highlighted key words to retell the entire passage.

Strategies for Answering Questions

Step 1. The first step involves understanding the question. Here, you will teach students how to identify key words in each question. (Hint: these words often include academic language, such as compare, analyze, determine, etc.)

Step 2. Now teach students to paraphrase the question using the key words they identified in step 1. This helps students focus their attention and clarify the purpose of the question. Through paraphrasing, their processing is slowed down, providing time for students to comprehend what the question is truly asking. Students who struggle with reading tests often jump to the multiple-choice answers and look for something that may have been in the passage but may not answer the question.

Step 3. The next step is to have students decide if they should look back through the text. Once students know where to look, they can utilize the comprehension strategies you have taught them in guided reading. For example, if the question is asking for a comparison, students can think of what they know about answering yellow questions. Or if a question asks which statement would be included in a summary of the text, they can quickly use the Somebody-Wanted-But-So card for the text and choose the answer that best fits.

Step 4. Finally, it is important to teach students to evaluate all the choices. Students need to toggle with the answer choices by asking, “Does this choice answer the question?” or by concluding, “I think it is right/not right because …” Once an answer choice is determined, students should reread the question and their answer to be sure they’ve selected the correct response. Sometimes all the choices are lifted from the text but only one answers the question. In some cases, the question asks the reader to identify two correct answers.

Teach these steps during your guided reading lessons. Once these strategies are internalized, they will become second nature for students.

—Karen Cangemi, Literacy Consultant, Pioneer Valley Books

Literacy Tip of the Week: October 14, 2019

posted Oct 13, 2019, 2:49 PM by Emily Richardson   [ updated Dec 8, 2019, 7:20 PM by Steven Richardson ]

I posted this literacy tip earlier this year. So many have found it useful that I've decided to post it again in case someone missed it.

ELL students often leave off the endings of words when they read. In Latin-based European languages, words tend to end with continuous or open sounds, so ending sounds blend right into the initial sounds of the next spoken word. The idea of “Romance” languages stems from this common trait among Latin-based languages. Words flow so melodically from one to the next that they’re pleasant to the ear. That is not the case with English. Many endings for English words are derived from German and Dutch, languages much more harsh sounding.

Students whose native language is Latin-based are not used to pronouncing and stopping sounds so abruptly. They have no concept of certain “stop” sounds. Non-native English-speaking students tend to read words as they would be pronounced phonetically in their native languages.

Just a few minutes of explicit instruction during a guided reading lesson can make such a profound difference in developing students’ reading skills. During a guided reading lesson, we can prompt students to read all the way through the words and teach them to consciously pronounce and enunciate ending sounds as they read. All it takes to establish those neural pathways for English sounds is a few minutes of laser-targeted instruction scaffolded within a few guided reading lessons.

by Julie Taylor, Next Step Guided Reading Consultant

Literacy Tip of the Week: October 6, 2019

posted Oct 6, 2019, 4:00 PM by Emily Richardson   [ updated Dec 8, 2019, 7:22 PM by Steven Richardson ]

Expanding Vocabulary

Research on vocabulary acquisition has revealed that most vocabulary is learned indirectly through everyday experiences with oral and written language, and that children benefit from direct instruction in new words and vocabulary strategies (Cunningham, 2009). Students learn vocabulary indirectly when they are read to, when they read on their own, and when they converse with others, especially adults. Although there are lots of exceptions (my husband is one), children from professional families generally have richer vocabularies because they hear more words in the home (Hart & Risley, 1995).

This week I want to suggest some steps for teaching vocabulary during whole class lessons. Next month I’ll address teaching vocabulary and vocabulary strategies during small group guided reading.

Explicitly Teaching Vocabulary During a Read Aloud

Step 1. Select a book that supports vocabulary development. It should have some challenging words that are defined in the glossary or supported by text clues or illustrations. For older readers, look for challenging multisyllabic words that contain common affixes and roots. Write 5-7 of these challenging words on index cards.

Step 2. During the read aloud, discuss the target vocabulary words you wrote on the index cards. Children have a better chance of remembering them when they can connect them to a book. Model how to use one of the following strategies:

- Substitute a word that makes sense.
- Reread or read on and search for clues.
- Make a connection to a word the students know. If you have English learners, use common cognates.
- Find a part they know. It could be part of a compound word or an affix or root.
- Use the glossary.

Step 3. After reading the book, distribute an index card to partners or triads and have them use the word to retell part of the book.

Step 4. Make a vocabulary word wall by posting the index cards with a copy of the book cover. Use some of these fun and engaging practice activities.

Vocabulary Review Activities

GUESS THIS WORD: Place the Vocabulary cards you have taught on the table. Give a clue about one of the words by saying, I’m thinking of a word… Students try to identify the word. You could give clues such as the definition, how many syllables, the part of speech, an antonym or synonym, the meaning of the affix, etc.

PUT TWO WORDS TOGETHER: Students create a sentence using two vocabulary words you have taught.

PICTURE THIS: Place the vocabulary cards face up on the table. One student draws or acts out one of the words while the others in the group try to guess it.

HIGH FIVE: One student writes down a word from their New Word List, and the others try to guess it by asking questions. The goal is to guess the word in less than five questions.

Jan Richardson, Ph.D.
Author and Consultant

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